Vince Young’s performance on Sunday was one the Tennessee Titans had been waiting to see.
When Young was given the starting job back after the 0-6 start, primarily at the behest of owner Bud Adams, it was basically portrayed by all involved that it would be a 10-game audition for Young to show whether or not he figured into the team’s long-term plans.
So far, so good for Young, who enjoyed his best game as a Titan Sunday in leading a 20-17 comeback victory with a 99-yard march and a touchdown pass to Kenny Britt on the game’s final play.
It was the Vince Young of University of Texas lore, and the one the Titans had seen glimpses of when he won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2006 after being selected third overall in the draft.
He was far from the quarterback who appeared to regress in ’07, then fell off the radar last year after the bizarre circumstances during and after the season opener.
On Sunday, Young and his Titans teammates were jubilant in the aftermath of his 387-yard passing performance that willed Tennessee to its fifth consecutive victory.
“He’s played some real solid games for us, but overall, it’s the first time since before I got here, that we’ve had a 300-yard passer, a 100-yard rusher [Chris Johnson] and a 100-yard receiver [Kenny Britt],” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “So you’ve got to credit the entire offense. But Vince played very, very well. He was clearly very poised throughout the game, and the 99-yard drive was one of his best.”
So at the midterm of Young’s 10-game audition, it appears he is not only passing the test of whether or not he will be the long-term answer at quarterback, he is on the honor roll. If Young continues to play anywhere close to the level he is now, it appears the Titans won’t be spending a high draft choice on a new quarterback next spring, as had been speculated during the 0-6 start.
Adams, of course, is already on board with Young, having said as much again in the locker room Sunday.
“From this point on, he’s learned everything he needed to learn and he is a tremendous player now. He is just what I thought he’d be when we drafted him,” the 86-year-old owner said.
It now appears that Young is winning over teammates and the coaching staff again as well.
Fisher was asked if he was surprised by Young’s success in his second stint as a starter and said, “I’m not surprised, no. I’m pleased, and I’m proud of the production and results.”
Young and the Titans will likely have to still come to some sort of resolution on his $14 million cap figure and $4 million roster bonus this offseason, but it is certain now that the quarterback’s leverage in the matter has improved exponentially with his play.
Contract issues aside, is Young ready to reassume the starting role long-term for 2010 and beyond?
“We drafted him to be the long-term answer,” Fisher said Monday.
Receiver Nate Washington is enthusiastic when he speaks about Young’s play, saying Young’s dynamic presence is hard not to notice. And Washington spent the past four years playing in Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger, who has two Super Bowl rings.
“Whatever he does is major. It’s on a whole different stage. It’s unexplainable,” Washington said. “It just feels good to be out there with a guy that understands that we have to win games, and he’s gonna do whatever he has to do to win games.”
Young’s 23-11 overall record as a starter attests to that, but the 5-0 mark he has put up since his return to the lineup speaks even louder, as has his overall play. Through five games, Young has now completed 83 of 132 passes for 1,010 yards with four TD passes and two interceptions and a passer rating of 90.2.
“I think since he’s taken over, four of his five games, he’s had a passer rating over 90. So I think he’s played well. And he just continues to improve,” Fisher said. “It’s just something unique each week, whether it’s to execute the option and those types of things, and the way he handled the two-minute drive, and even the drive before [where Kenny Britt fumbled]. That was a great effort getting out of the hole again, where Kenny got stripped.”
Britt, whose fourth-down TD catch as time expired made him the hero, could be keeping the job as the kickoff returner for the foreseeable future as well. His 35-yard return in the second half was the Titans’ longest kickoff return this season, as he took over the role from Michael Griffin, who took a hard hit, and finished the game at safety, but did not do any more returns.
“I think we’ll give him a shot at it,” Fisher said. “He was explosive and covered a lot of ground real quickly. He’s been working at it the last few weeks. He was excited about the opportunity.”
Fisher said Griffin was still willing to do returns, but that he wanted to give Britt a chance.
“He got whacked pretty good, but he was still willing to do it. It wasn’t because he got hurt,” Fisher said. “We discussed it and we fully intended on letting Kenny and Griff alternate, hoping that they didn’t get many opportunities.”
Even though Chris Johnson didn’t touch the ball once on the 18-play, 99-yard march that won Sunday’s game, Fisher said Johnson’s mere presence on the field was enough.
“His presence had a lot to do with the success of the drive, the fact that he was out there,” Fisher said. “Obviously, we were able to complete passes, get the ball out of bounds to stop the clock. I think a lot of it had to do with the deployment of the defense and the fact that he was on the field.”
FOX Network has moved the start time of the Dec. 13 game against the St. Louis Rams to 3:05 p.m. rather than noon.